In early November, senior electronic media and film major Tyler Peterson and his production team will begin shooting “Leadbeater,” a short film they’re making about a story that needs to be told, according to the film’s producer Jeb Burchick.
“Leadbeater” follows a group of friends during their senior year at a Baltimore art school who, during the course of their friendship, have all begun to fall in love with one another. When lead character Laurel, played by junior acting major Molly Cohen, turns 21, their relationships come to a head.
“It’s something that not necessarily the department or Towson has really seen before,” Burchick, also a senior and EMF major, said. “[We] just kind of want to go out of the box and this is a territory that hasn’t necessarily been covered in years past.”
The cast is made up entirely of LGBTQ+ characters, but that doesn’t define the film or the characters themselves.
“Various sexualities are explored in the film but I kind of want to deviate from labeling what they are,” Peterson said. “I wanted to make a film where the sexualities don’t matter, they’re just another part of that character and the way they live their lives.”
Burchick agrees that it’s important for characters to represent minority groups, but not to let that define their entire identities.
“When you see LGBT+ characters in film, it’s usually because something really depressing is happening. People are dying or something,” Burchick said. “These are a lot of characters that are special in their own ways, that aren’t pigeonholed into just their sexuality. They’re interesting and developed characters, and that’s just one part of it, like you see in the real world.”
Peterson describes the group of friends depicted in the film as “millennial beatniks,” to replace the outdated and over-generalizing stereotype of the hipster. The film also redefines “Leadbeater’s possum,” an endangered animal in Australia and Laurel’s spirit animal — and an adjective that she uses to describe herself.
“We’re giving ‘Leadbeater’ its own term,” Peterson said. “Laurel calls herself a Leadbeater, but it’s not necessarily ‘I’m a possum,’ but like, ‘I’m this artsy student who’s in love with their best friend and is dealing with all these things.’”
Burchick says that the film’s overarching themes of identity and mental illness were his main inspiration in joining the “Leadbeater” production team.
Peterson says he was heavily inspired by the music he was listening to while writing the script, mostly indie synth-pop bands like Beach House, Tame Impala and Wye Oak, along with Baltimore-based indie band Reagan Cats, who will provide the soundtrack to the film.
Cohen hopes to channel “a little bit of Hannah from ‘Girls’” in her depiction of Laurel, in addition to characters from the TV and film of the 1990s, like the women of ‘90s television staple “Twin Peaks.”
Cohen, along with several other cast members and most of the production crew, is a member of Towson’s media production society Lambda Kappa Tau. In addition to support in the form of money and labor from LKT, Peterson and his crew have received support from Towson faculty, including film three professor Joseph Kraemer and EMF professors Marc May and Jena Richardson.
“Leadbeater” and the other film three student films being made will be screened in Van Bokkelen in December. According to Burchick, “you’re going to be seeing a lot of blood, sweat and tears put into these movies,” as well a variety of genres, from horror to comedy.
“All of the films this semester are female-led which is interesting, I think that’s a good move,” Peterson said. “We’re creating a new mainstream of what should be, how films should be represented. It’s a very eclectic mix this semester.”